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The Role of Brands in Mental Health Awareness

  • Rob Patterson

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in five U.S. adults experiences mental illness in a given year.

Think about that for a moment.

A quick calculation shows that 20% of the American population equates to north of 65 million people. That’s a startling number of people who are suffering in one way or another, painting a troubling portrait of our society.

And, in order to bring light to these issues, Mental Health America has been observing Mental Health Month in the month of May since 1949. By reaching millions of people through social media, local events, and screenings, they hope to bring awareness to these issues so that people in need might better help themselves.

As marketers, this begs an important question: in an era in which consumers are demanding that brands stand for something greater than just their products, what kind of role should brands play in the realm of mental health? Let’s take a look at two brands that have done so with grace.


As Canada’s largest telecommunications and mass media group, Bell’s platform is as big as it gets for our neighbors to the north. Starting in 2010, Bell began a conversation about Canada’s mental health. At the time, most people weren’t talking about mental illness, but the statistics spoke volumes about the need to act.

From there spawned the idea for Bell Let’s Talk Day. On this day each year, millions of Canadians (and Americans, too) engage in an open conversation on social media, with every instance of the use of #BellLetsTalk resulting in a $0.05 donation to mental health programs.

The most surprising part? Professional hockey teams and players are among the greatest advocates of #BellLetsTalk, doing their part to remove the stigma that mental illness is some sort of weakness. The best part? Since the inception of #BellLetsTalk Day in 2010, $93.4 million dollars have been donated to mental health programs across their country.

Twitch Mental Health Awareness

Anyone who has ever played video games online knows that the anonymity associated with playing behind a headset can lead gamers to say some regrettable things. Sometimes, it’s something relatively harmless, but at other times, it can escalate to a point bordering on bullying.

This month, however, Twitch, the popular streaming platform, has taken a stance on the issue. In a blog post published on May 1st, the brand encouraged its community of gamers to spend some time on their stream or in the chat to talk about their mental health, their life experiences, and what mental health means to them. While it may seem like a stretch at face value, many Twitch streamers and viewers form legitimate friendships based on time spent gaming together. For those viewers, a message of support for mental health might feel as genuine as a message coming from a family member or friend.

Twitch offers additional support on its website, too, with an entire page filled with links to resources for mental health issues of all types. By turning the purported toxic reputation of the gaming community on its head, the brand may very well be making a difference in the lives of many – however small that difference may be.

In the end, brands can only do so much to better the mental health of individuals; it takes personal acknowledgement and a true effort to do that. However, what Twitch and Bell did so successfully was to advance the conversation. Whether it’s from your favorite video gamer or your favorite hockey player, hearing from someone you admire that mental illness is nothing to to be ashamed of goes a long way towards erasing the stigma that has been so unduly associated with mental disease.